The scene was surreal. There were 21 Missouri wineries in the hotel ballroom, 100 or so people tasting wine, and a large screen at the far side of the room. The screen, changing constantly, was displaying real-time comments made not only by everyone who was in the room tasting the wine, but by people throughout the world commenting on the comments that were being made about the wine. And there were pictures.
Or, as Eric V. Orange, the founder and CEO of LocalWineEvents.com said to me, as we watched what was going on in middle-aged disbelief: "Wow. I never imagined it would be like this."
Twitter tastings, like the one we did for the 2011 DrinkLocalWine.com conference in St. Louis on Saturday, are nothing new. They've been hip and au courant for a couple of years, and not just because of the technology. Virtual tastings allow wineries, wine regions and other groups that don't have big budgets to do tastings that offer big results. The reach is impressive: Those 100 people in a hotel ballroom can turn their tweets about Missouri wine into millions of impressions on Twitter, which can get picked up through other social media like Facebook and even end up in Google search results.
What's new, and what was so impressive this time, is that so many people who weren't there wanted to know about the wines that were being tasted. And that's something that will continue to push the wine world in a completely different direction — one that continues to squeeze wine criticism. More, after the jump:
The Wine Curmudgeon missed this last fall, which was quite a faux pas given how much I care about regional wine. New Mexico's Gruet Winery was named the best U.S. wine producer in 2010 in the quite prestigious International Wine and Spirits Competition. Pretty impressive for a regional winery, no?
So what better way to mark the third annual DrinkLocalWine.com conference this weekend in St. Louis than with one of my all-time favorites, Gruet's rose sparkling wine? How a family of expatriate French can make such terrific bubbly in New Mexico, using pinot noir and chardonnay that they grow, is beyond me. I'm just glad they're able to do it.
The rose ($14, purchased) has a firm acidic backbone, as quality sparkling wine should, and is balanced by softer berry fruit (strawberry?). Meanwhile, there is just enough caramel, another sign of well-made bubbly, to show that the Gruets know what they are doing. Drink this chilled on its own or with any kind of spring dinner, salad or picnic. And if you have any cold fried chicken around, it would do quite nicely.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
? Shoofly The Freckle 2008 ($14, sample): This Australian white Rhone blend is starting to show its age, but does have pleasant honey floral aroma, sweet apple fruit at the back, and a peach pit finish.
? Stag's Leap Artemis 2003 ($40, sample): This is classic and elegant Napa cabernet sauvignon at a time when consumers expect trendy and pushy Napa cabernet. That those consumers don't appreciate it is their loss.
? Bella Sera Pinot Grigio 2009 ($8, sample): Simple, decent, and surprisingly pleasant Italian white wine. This won't offend anyone, which is saying a lot for pinot grigio at this price.
The Wine Curmudgeon has never felt comfortable with sauvignon blanc that has been aged in oak. Too often, the oak covers up the varietal character and the sauvignon blanc ends up tasting like chardonnay. Which seems to be defeating the purpose of sauvignon blanc.
Plus, Souverain inhabits one of those gray areas in the wine business that often makes it difficult to figure out what its wine will taste like. It's a grocery store brand owned by one of the multi-nationals scrambling to shed expenses, so one never knows what the bosses will tell the winemaker about how much he can spend.
So I was not expecting much. But the Souverain ($14, sample) reminded me, as wines so often do, not to judge them before I drink them. It was much better than I thought it would be, with a bit of richness missing from most California sauvignon blanc. In addition, the oak doesn't obscure the Bordeaux-like sauvignon blanc fruit (less citrus and more citrus zest). Nicely done; serve it chilled on its own or with white meat dishes that have light sauces.
The Wine Curmudgeon is never quite sure what to make of the Layer Cake wines. A year-old review of the shiraz was one of the most popular posts on the blog in 2010, and it's still getting comments. Is it the quality of the wine that elicits so much enthusiasm, or the quality of the label, what with it featuring a chocolate cake?
For the primitivio ($12, sample) the answer is the quality of the wine. It's made in Italy, but done in a decidedly New World Style — lots of oak and lots of dark black fruit, with vanilla thrown in for good measure. But it also offers plenty of traditional zinfandel-style spice and brambliness, which helped balance the wine — and the alcohol is only 13 1/2 percent. Another point in its favor: I tasted the wine about a year ago, and it wasn't as interesting as this. Another year of bottle aging seems to have helped.
Why the zinfandel reference? Because primitivo is apparently the same grape, though there is still some debate about the subject. In this, too many Italian primitivos I've tasted, including one the other night to compare to the Layer Cake, go whole hog for the New World zinfandel style without understanding what's involved. It's not a pretty sight.
Want to see how wine changes over time, taking into account things like vintage difference and consumer preferences, and especially how the big wine companies see consumer preference?
Then taste the Dancing Bull ($9, purchased), which is one of the most popular wines among visitors to the blog. In my review of the 2007 vintage, I wrote that it wasn’t “quite as spicy or brambly” as it was when the wine debuted a decade ago, but that it was still more or less a traditional zinfandel. The current vintage has changed even more. It still has some zinfandel character, with pepper on the nose and spice at the back, but there is a huge dollop of sweet red fruit in the middle that wasn’t there in the 2007 or when I first tasted it.
Which is where consumer preference — or what companies like E&J Gallo, which makes Dancing Bull, see as consumer preference — comes in. One of the big changes in U.S. grocery store wine over the past several years is, for lack of a better term, the addition of sweet fruit. It’s not that the wines are sweet, and the Dancing Bull is bone dry. Rather, it’s what Eric Asimov of the New York Times describes as not the “actual sugar in the wine, but also (more often) of the impression of sweetness. This impression can be provided by dominant fruit flavors and high concentrations of glycerol, a product of fermentation that is heavy, oily and slightly sweet.” And, he writes, California zinfandel exactly fits that description.
Gallo’s market research, apparently, has determined that consumers want that sweet fruit in their wine. So the company makes the wine that way, and the Dancing Bull is the result. Is this good or bad? Neither. As the Wine Curmudgeon has said many times, good and bad doesn’t apply to wine. It’s what each person wants to drink.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, an all California lineup:
? Bota Box Malbec 2009 ($18 for a 3-liter box, sample): Wine for people who aren't all that fussy about what their wine tastes like. Lots of sweet blackberry fruit without much tannin or acid.
? Raymond Merlot Reserve 2007 ($23, sample): A fair bit of merlot character, which means it's not as fruity as other California merlots at this price and even (dare I say?) a little more subtle. A step up from the $15 merlots that so many people drink.
? Fess Parker Syrah 2007 ($24, sample): Big, huge syrah with traditional bacon fat aroma, lots of rich, black fruit and 14.9 percent alcohol. If you like this style of wine, you'll love this wine.
? Freemark Abbey Viognier 2009 ($27, sample): I didn't think there was any way I would appreciate this, given that it was oaked and had 14.5 percent alcohol. But it was mostly in balance, with apricot fruit and peach pit finish.